New television advertisements, funded by the federal government, caution seniors to watch their mailboxes for a new Medicare card. But the ads don’t sufficiently explain why, leaving many confused.
The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA) of 2015, signed by President Obama, requires the removal of Social Security Numbers (SSNs) from each Medicare card. It must be complete by April 2019.
A May 2017 press release from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), says this rollout is part of a larger “fraud prevention initiative.” The release cited Department of Justice statistics showing identity theft incidents among seniors increased 24% between 2012 and 2014.
We unscientifically polled men and women of ages 25 to 70, asking which information shouldn’t be on a Medicare card. Respondents wanted two “common sense” pieces of information taken off Medicare cards, including:
- the member’s social security number
- the exact types of coverage they are eligible to receive
Why Remove Social Security Numbers from New Medicare Cards?
Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration enacted Medicare in 1965. To save time and reduce effort, the program pulled in Personally Identifiable Information from Social Security. The data was used to establish and manage Medicare benefits. Medicare members became identified by their social security numbers, an easy to remember method that worked for multiple decades.
We now know that creating Medicare cards with sensitive social security numbers invites identity theft. Although hindsight is 20/20, figuring that out doesn’t take a special degree. In fact, many of the “more than 4,500 people a day” who enroll in Medicare call 1-800-MEDICARE when they receive their card. They ask the reason Medicare doesn’t already generate a member ID number like any other insurance company.
Why Did It Take So Long?
Typical government bureaucracy is why. For example, when Congress was ready to approve a change, two groups stepped forward.
Lobbyists representing medical providers, hospitals, and drug manufacturers warned about catastrophic problems processing Medicare claims without the usual SSN. Meanwhile, consumer organizations complained senior citizens could have difficulty remembering a new number.
When and How Will the Medicare Card Changes Occur?
In April 2018, Medicare beneficiaries will receive a new Medicare card featuring their “Medicare Beneficiary Identifier” (MBI) Number, which replaces the previous SSN identifier. The MBI has 11 characters of uppercase letters and numbers. It does not change Medicare benefits, and beneficiaries can begin using their new cards once received in the mail.
Until then, the existing Medicare card remains valid.